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Congress: Previewing Hagel's hearing

Chuck Hagel’s confirmation hearings to become the next Defense Secretary begin Thursday at 9:30 am ET before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

USA Today: “After weeks of hearing from critics that Defense secretary nominee Chuck Hagel is not tough enough on Iran, not tight enough with Israel and too eager to dismantle the nation's nuclear arsenal, Hagel's allies say he will dispel those concerns during his hearing Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.” More: “Hagel, in written comments to the committee, called Israel a "key security partner of the United States." Regarding Iran, he wrote that he backs President Obama's position that military options will be considered to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”

Hagel will stress “that he opposes letting Iran acquire nuclear weapons and will focus on developing military options to set back Tehran’s program, according to a U.S. official familiar with his planned testimony,” the L.A. Times writes. Said a U.S. official: “He’s going to be very clear that he fully supports the president’s policy of preventing Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. His job as secretary of Defense is to ensure that the military is prepared for any contingency, and he believes all options should be on the table, including military options.”

The L.A. Times: “Hagel’s willingness to back the use of force against Iran is likely to be the key area of questioning during what is expected to be a daylong hearing with the Senate Armed Services Committee.”

The New York Times says it is “likely to be a combative confirmation hearing focusing on Iran, Israel and the American military’s role in the world.” More: With the help of a transition staff led by Marcel J. Lettre, Mr. Panetta’s deputy chief of staff, Mr. Hagel has received voluminous Pentagon briefings, met with Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and spoken with the deputy defense secretary, Ashton B. Carter, who will remain in the job. Mr. Hagel, 66, a decorated Vietnam veteran and a former Republican senator from Nebraska, has also worked closely with Mr. Obama’s aides on what has become a major White House offensive to counter criticism from Jewish and conservative groups and some Democrats that Mr. Hagel is too hard on Israel and too soft on Iran.”

NPR says it’s “shaping up to be one of the more contentious nomination hearings or one of President Obama's cabinet choices.” The hearing “is expected to be dominated by the issues of Israel, Iran and looming defense budget cuts.”

Politico asks: Is Hagel up to the job? “There’s not much on Chuck Hagel’s résumé that screams secretary of defense. He’s not a former White House chief of staff, like Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld. He never ran the CIA, like Leon Panetta or Robert Gates. He never worked inside the Pentagon. There’s one main job on his résumé — politician — and for Hagel, that’s the problem.”

“As a group of Senate stars tries to sell a new immigration proposal, their House counterparts are secretly toiling under the radar to craft their own plan in the next few weeks,” Politico writes. But it will be no easy task to sell it to their colleagues.” More: According to sources, the House working group includes Democrats Zoe Lofgren and Xavier Becerra of California, Luis Gutierrez of Illinois and John Yarmuth of Kentucky. Negotiating for the Republicans are Mario Diaz-Balart of Florida, Sam Johnson and John Carter of Texas and Raul Labrador of Idaho.”

Speaking of a tough sell, the editors of National Review call “comprehensive” immigration the wrong approach and that it should be done more “piecemeal.” They also conclude: Rubio “is wrong about how to go about repairing our immigration system, and wrong to think that an amnesty-and-enforcement bill at this time will end up being anything other than the unbuttered side of a half-a-loaf deal. And there is no reason to make a bad deal for fear of losing a Latino vote Republicans never had.”

David Vitter: "I love and respect Marco. I think he's just amazingly naïve on this issue." (H/T: Political Wire.)

Dana Milbank: “When he and his colleagues stepped off the elevator in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Wednesday morning and found TV cameras waiting in the hallway, LaPierre’s bodyguards swung into action. One of them, in blatant violation of congressional rules, bumped and body-checked journalists out of the way so they couldn’t film LaPierre or question him as he walked. ‘You don’t have jurisdiction here!’ a cameraman protested as an NRA goon pushed him against a wall. After the melee, congressional officials informed the NRA officials that, in the halls of Congress, they had to follow congressional procedures — which prohibit manhandling. This must have come as a surprise to the gun lobbyists, whose swagger seems to suggest that they are, in fact, in control of Congress.”

“Democratic Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey denied Wednesday that he accepted free plane trips and contact with prostitutes from a Florida eye doctor whose offices were raided by federal agents Tuesday night,” USA Today writes. The statement from his office in response to a Miami Herald story: "Dr. Melgen has been a friend and political supporter of Sen. Menendez for many years. Sen. Menendez has traveled on Dr. Melgen's plane on three occasions, all of which have been paid for and reported appropriately. Any allegations of engaging with prostitutes are manufactured by a politically motivated right-wing blog and are false."

“U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez this month wrote a $58,500 check to a company owned by a South Florida eye doctor and political fundraiser to reimburse him for two personal flights to the Dominican Republic that the New Jersey Democrat did not report on his Senate financial disclosure form, his office confirmed to NBC News Wednesday night,” NBC’s Michael Isikoff reported.

The Boston Globe on Mo Cowan: “Cowan said Wednesday that his upbringing in that largely segregated tobacco town was essential to his rise. It was there that his mother, a widowed seamstress, instilled in him the confidence that helped him navigate a town where he saw the Ku Klux Klan, still active in the 1970s, burn a cross, march on his high school, and hand out literature on Main Street. Cowan went on to attend Duke University, land a partnership at a powerful Boston law firm, and become a top adviser to Governor Deval Patrick. On Friday, he moves on to the US Senate, the eighth African-American to serve in the chamber.” More: “After moving to the city 22 years ago to attend Northeastern Law School, Cowan, 43, became a respected mentor to young African-American lawyers and professionals in a city known as a tough place for newcomers and people of color.”

Here’s the text of John Kerry’s emotional farewell speech on the Senate floor yesterday. One portion: “If the Senate favors inaction over courage and gimmicks over common ground, the risk is not that we will fail to move forward. It is that we will fall behind, we will stay behind and we will surrender our promise to those who are more than willing to turn our squandered opportunity into their advantage. The world keeps turning; the Senate cannot afford to forever stand still.”